The Transportation Security Administration is going to let travelers carry small knives and some sports equipment aboard passenger planes for the first time since 2001, which airline attendants say will make flights more dangerous for them and for passengers.
TSA Administrator John Pistole announced the change Tuesday and said it would take effect April 25. It will put U.S. restrictions for carry-on items in line with international rules, he said.
The policy change marks a big shift by the TSA in loosening what have been tighter restrictions for items allowed in carry-on luggage since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It's in keeping with Pistole's shift toward a risk-based air security system.
"The focus is on what could present catastrophic damage to the aircraft," said David Castelveter, a TSA spokesman.
The items that the TSA said would be allowed:
Knives without a molded grip and with blades that don't lock and are less than 6 centimeters, or 2.36 inches.
Novelty-size and toy bats less than 24 inches long and weighing less than 24 ounces.
Billiard cues, ski poles, hockey and lacrosse sticks, and two golf clubs as part of carry-on baggage.
Razor blades and box cutters, such as those the 9/11 hijackers used, would still be prohibited. "There's still an emotional attachment to that matter," Castelveter said.
The allowances more closely match standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the TSA said.
The TSA has eased restrictions before on what passengers can carry on a plane by allowing cigarette lighters and fingernail clippers after first banning them. But allowing pocketknives aboard is a step that set off an immediate outcry.
The Flight Attendants Union Coalition, representing nearly 90,000 flight attendants at U.S. airlines nationwide, called it "a poor and shortsighted decision by the TSA."
"We believe that these proposed changes will further endanger the lives of all flight attendants and the passengers we work so hard to keep safe and secure," the group said.
Stacy Martin, president of Southwest Airlines' flight-attendants union, Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, called the decision "outrageous."
"This policy was designed to make the lives of TSA staff easier, but not make flights safer," Martin said. "While we agree that a passenger wielding a small knife or swinging a golf club or hockey stick poses less of a threat to the pilot locked in the cockpit, these are real threats to passengers and flight attendants in the passenger cabin."
In making the announcement, Pistole emphasized the importance of risk-based screening, to focus on the biggest threats to aircraft rather than holding everyone to the same security standard.
"This is part of an overall risk-based security approach, which allows transportation security officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher-threat items such as explosives," the TSA said in a statement.
Passengers still will be prevented from carrying on many items, including liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces.
Security experts such as Kip Hawley, former head of the TSA under former president George W. Bush, have long advocated reducing the number of banned items because the hardening of cockpit doors would prevent a terrorist from gaining control of a plane as hijackers did on 9/11.
"We continually assess the threat associated with aviation travel, and where we can rely on the other layers of risk-based security," Castelveter said, referring to some pilots armed with guns, armed air marshals who fly undercover, and flight attendants trained in self-defense.